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Staying Safe Online
It's been a while since we last mentioned the importance of internet safety so we thought we should post again and explain our policies and advice to you all.
In the UK recently, a children's news program "Newsround" had a special episode that shows what we're talking about quite well. The episode is now on youtube so I thought I'd post the links for you to watch and remind yourself why it's important to keep yourself safe while on our website and any others you may visit.
"Caught in the Web" Part One - Part Two
You may be thinking that none of this applies to you, either because you're an adult or because no one from your real lives are part of this community, or because this site is about writing and not social networking, but on the internet everyone is at risk. We're not trying to scare you away from our site, we just want to make sure you understand the importance of protecting yourself.
We have had issues in the past of people crossing boundaries, lying about their age, or even creating a whole new persona for their internet lives, just like WhiteKnight in the video above. A writing community is all about characters and the events that shape their lives, so think about how easy it would be for one of these authors to create a character of their own to live inside.
We’re all friends on this site, many people talk on instant messengers outside of the forums and we send emails to and fro when talking to beta readers or gauntlet guides. MNFF now has a facebook and twitter account, and that makes it easier for people to find you. I know that I myself have many of you as friends on facebook but I must stress the fact that doing this puts yourself at risk.
Below are some guidelines on how to keep this risk as low as possible.
Don’t tell anyone you date of birth, home town, address, phone number, and if you can avoid it, keep your surname secret too.
When contacting members of the site outside of the forums or archives, keep them grouped together. On facebook and twitter you can create Friends lists, and on AIM or MSN you can create contact lists. If you are going to add anyone from MNFF I ask that you create a group for them and place them in there so that further down the line you know where you got that contact from. I also suggest keeping these people on a limited profile on facebook, don’t let them know every detail of your lives, keep your personal information safe!
The Admins and Moderators on this site are trusted individuals who have been on the site for a long time and have been constant in their personalities and behaviour. These people are here to keep you safe. If you spot anything suspicious, you can email any of us privately and we will investigate the matter, however trivial you may think it is.
Remember that our site is open to all ages. Internet safety laws say you cannot create an account until you are thirteen but we know people will add a year or two to their date of birth in order to take part. This is very dangerous! You may think you are old enough to be online and take care of yourself but anything can give you away. When you are young, your writing style is less developed, more excitable and less guarded than it should be. These things can easily mark you out as a target to anyone with other motives than writing. We have banned many people who we have discovered to be underage, and we do this in your own interest. Some of you reading this will have been banned for this reason and I hope you understand now that you’re older why we asked you to leave when we did.
We also ask that you let a parent know what you’re up to when you’re online. I joined this site when I was thirteen years of age, and immediately got addicted to reading the stories whenever I could. Luckily, I’ve got the kind of personality that likes to brag about achievements, so as soon as I got a story accepted I was bouncing off the walls and telling my parents that somebody liked my work. We’re not all like this though, some parents may consider Harry Potter or writing as a meaningless waste of time and you may be embarrassed to admit what you spend your time doing. I’m sure the “homework” excuse has been used many times when hiding MNFF from on-looking parents, but it is important that your guardians know what is happening in your lives. If anything were to happen, you don’t want to be in a situation where you’re thinking you can’t tell them because then they’ll know what you’ve been doing all along. Writing is an achievement, and something to be proud of! Don’t be ashamed to let your parents know that you’re doing something educational and enjoyable.
If possible, create an email account that you use for your internet sites only. That way you can keep your important emails from friends, workmates, teachers and the like separate from those from people you have never met. Again, were anything to happen, you can simply stop using that account and sever contact with anyone unfavourable.
And here is the top priority – Never meet anyone you have contacted online by yourself. If you are going to meet up, (which is not advisable) bring a parent/guardian or responsible adult with you. This does not mean your best friend! If you are two thirteen year olds and the person you’re meeting turns out to be forty-five, there is not much your best friend can do to help you. Always meet in a public place, and try to avoid unorganised trips. Conventions and organised meet-ups with a lot of people are generally staffed, publicised, and more secure than simply waiting for someone in a café somewhere.
If you have any questions, problems or incidents to report, our inboxes are always open and (even if our PM boxes are full or the site is down) the firstname.lastname@example.org account is always online and never fills up.
Stay safe and be happy!
~ Roxy Black and the rest of MNFF staff.